Rationale for free-libre tools

This is to discuss the thread 5 The practical rationale for free-libre tools in coop organising, emerging from the meeting on Shared learning spaces, 15mar2021. The emerging threads are summarised here. Possible participants include: Micky Metts, Keegan Rankin. Maybe Simon Grant, Jonathan Cook? Maybe Robert Best, Mike Gismondi, Matt Noyes? Maybe Marco Fioretti, Jason Nardi?

Hi @freescholar - Is this a good time to kick off this thread? Why do folks find it not obvious to use free-libre apps and platforms? What do they need to be persuaded of? What combination of the following needs to be addressed . .

  • Oh no, not ANOTHER app/interface/browser tab! Not more screen real-estate PLEASE.
  • Ditto, No more lerarning-curve, PLEASE.
  • Everybody I connect with uses <mainstream, corporate platform/app XYZ>
  • Isn’t it less good than branded software? Commercial stuff ‘just works’.
  • In my experience free (free beer) software is less slick, or full-functioned, or is glitchy in some way.
  • What’s that stuff about my metadata being scraped? Why should I worry if I’m not individually identified? Ru telling me there’s a politics I have to engage with? I don’t have headspace for that, way too abstract.
  • Etc?

Others might want to pitch in: @Jonathan @robert.best @MikeG @mnoyes @asimong @jamie

Thanks for the prompt, Mike @mikemh

I’m drawn to refer to my experience with vegans. To set this in context, I regard myself as vegan-friendly but not vegan, and very open-friendly but not open-exclusivist. Non-vegans often have the line “vegan food is so boring/tasteless/unvaried” and sometimes “doesn’t give me the nutrition my body needs”. The second can be a perfectly valid point, only answerable by proper trials which could be evaluated according to a scientific method. The first point is, in my experience, best countered by providing the non-vegan with delicious vegan food, without making a fuss about it. There is no hurry to reveal that it is in fact vegan.

What doesn’t work in my experience is to adopt a critical judgemental attitude. Least helpful of all, a vegan might criticise a vegetarian for not going the whole way, etc., where a more productive approach in my experience is to be supportive and appreciative that they have gone at least part of the way.

Back to FLOSS. Let’s face it, some free software simply is not as good. In my opinion, we (the free software community in general) would best focus on a coordinated approach to improving the less attractive free version so that it is at least as good as the commercial version. The challenge here is not that it is impossible to do – rather, to do it well requires co-ordination and collaboration to an extent that may not come easily to a random individual free software developer. I find that neither surprising nor blameworthy at all, but it does invite focus and attention and development, not of technical skills but of social and collaborative skill and competence.

We can, of course, always make out our moral and principled case for FLOSS, but I’d suggest being careful not to antagonise the very people who would like to move but haven’t yet.

Another approach which I occasionally go on about is a culture of mutual and peer support. If the FLOSS version is somewhat less intuitive, then provide the user with a great support network. I mean end user, not developer, so that doesn’t mean StackOverflow! See the user experience from a non-technical point of view.

I imagine this working best in a kind of tree structure, so that each person in the tree supports just a few people with less experience. That way, no one ‘expert’ would be overwhelmed with help requests. But setting this up … that’s a different question!

Yes, which may perhaps be implemented as shared genres of work practice? So that watch-and-learn happens, and peer-learning has a chance to ‘just happen’?

Somehow, I don’t think either of us has pinpointed a solution to the challenge of getting an entire community/group/team to migrate to another app or platform. Even with the best free-libre tools/platforms, the ‘installed base’ or ‘network effect’ of the status quo is really hard to shift? Who’s going to use, say, Matrix/Element, if ‘everybody’ is in Telegram?

Mike @mikemh I guess you would agree that it isn’t the level of challenge that is amenable to pinpointing a solution in the short term. Yes indeed, we are working with a very hard-to-shift challenge, because of the installed base and network effect issues. But in my experience, there are actually a lot of people, increasing all the time, who are unhappy with using GAFAM – or at least Facebook – and would move over if there were a good alternative. So could we, for the time being, work on the FLOSS culture so that instead of so many people naively thinking “I have a good idea for a solution” they recognise that lots of people have good ideas, and the challenge is coordination and solidarity in the sense of collaboration not competition. Like, before starting to code your wonderful FB alternative (etc. etc.) have a good look around and see if you can collaborate on an existing initiative. Is this feasible?

actually I see a slightly open door here, because there are a lot of end users frustrated with the multiplicity of WhatsApp / Telegram / Signal and they’d rather have one than all three. When we get to a really effective single solution, that might just have a bit of traction. But not yet – not until there is a really really simple and straightforward way of getting onto e.g. Matrix/Element. Too many techies appear to have completely forgotten how simple it needs to be for the average user. Very, very, very simple. The way that GAFAM has successfully designed or bought up well-designed services – that simple. The simplicity that comes from a total dedication to customer service – seeing things fully from the end user’s point of view, as well as their own.